Learning the Rosary

When Chris’ box finally arrived, it came with the Rosary beads I’d asked her to send.  Like I said before, it was small and very pretty–just right for someone who was curious, but by no means committed.  By now I’d learned some things about praying the Rosary, so with pamphlet and rosary in hand, I tried it out.

I took a deep breath and prayed that if this stuff were true, God would convince Nolan of it (even though he had no interest at this point).  Nolan is my soul-mate, the love of my life, my best friend.  Having already gone down the conservative route alone and dead-ending on it after two years, I didn’t want to do this alone.  However, I also knew that I couldn’t ignore the frustration within myself waiting for Nolan to take an interest.  So, I did what any good wife eventually learns to do, I prayed!  If this was the right direction, then I asked God not to let me go it alone.

Just before I began to actually pray the Rosary, I threw in one last petition, “Mary, if you can hear me, I hope this doesn’t offend you.”  🙂  (My Catholic friends get quite the chuckle out of that petition!)

So what, exactly, is the Rosary?  Well, there’s tomes written on the subject along with lots of pamphlets, books, booklets, notecards, etc.  If you’re around a devoutly believing and practicing Catholic for any length of time, you’ll hear something about the Rosary.  What is the fascination?  Well, I’ll do my best to explain.

First, the Rosary is made up of a combination of Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Be-s.  The Our Father is the Lord’s Prayer without the “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”  The Glory Be is, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”  I know of few evangelical Christians who object to either of these prayers.  However, the Hail Mary is a very different matter.

The Hail Mary is based on Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, “Hail, Full of Grace, the LORD is with thee.”  And Elizabeth’s greeting, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”  The second half the Hail Mary is, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”  We call Mary “holy” because she is holy.  She is, after all, in the very presence of God and no one not holy can be there.  (There are other reasons as well, but I’ll leave it at that for now.)  We call her the “Mother of God” because she is.  Jesus is God.  Mary is His mother.  It’s actually an important point to make as it has more to do with who Jesus is than who Mary is.  This was defined in the early Church because of heresies concerning whether Jesus was half-God, half-man, or all-God and an illusion to man, etc.  By declaring definitively that Mary was His mother and that He is God, the Church was establishing that Jesus is fully Man and fully God.

The last part comes from the belief that those who have died can still pray for us when asked, just as our friends on earth can when we ask them.  After all, nothing separates us from Christ, our Head, not even death.  Therefore, as part of the Body of Christ, Christians are never separated from one another.  (It’s not as if when someone dies that “finger” falls off the Body and another takes its place.  And remember, we’re the ones who see “as through a glass darkly” not those who have gone before us.)  Mary is asked to pray for us now and at the hour of our death.  The hour of death is Satan’s last chance to try to snatch a soul from God, so it’s always been the practice to surround a dying person with prayer.  Asking those in Heaven to pray at that time too makes sense.  (Remember, Catholics believe that we must be faithful to the end in order to enter Heaven.)

The next part that baffles those not familiar with the Rosary is the repetition of those prayers.  One Our Father, ten Hail Marys, one Glory Be; repeat five times.  Some will protest because of Jesus’ condemnation of repetitious prayer, but that ignores logic and the cultural practice Jesus was addressing.

First, it denies common sense.  Repetitious prayer is a prayer that is repeated, right?  Okay.  How many times do we pray for the same intention?  Does it really matter if we change the words just a bit?  It’s still the same prayer.  (And if I wanted to get on a soapbox about it, I think there’s more senseless repetition when someone “Father Gods” or “Dear Lords” all through their prayer than saying Hail Marys!  But, I won’t go there right now.)

Second, why did Jesus condemn repetitious prayer?  He said it was because they think they will be heard because of their many words.  The pagans of that time still held to the same practice that the false prophets of Baal did in the time of Elijah.  They called and slashed themselves and called and danced and called.  Why?  Because Baal wouldn’t have heard them otherwise!  Jesus is warning His followers that God is not like that.  Repetition is not what gets God’s attention, but humility, patience, and obedience.  However, repetition for the purpose of praise or meditation is certainly not condemned by Jesus.  If it were, the seraphim in Isaiah 6 are in big trouble!  After all, they are spending eternity crying out the same prayer over and over.

So, what is the purpose of all those Hail Marys?  Well, the Rosary is made up of a total of twenty mysteries about the lives of Jesus and Mary.  Here’s the breakdown:

Joyful:  1. The Annunciation  2. The Visitation (Mary to Elizabeth) 3. The Nativity 4. The Dedication in the Temple  5. The Finding in the Temple

Luminous:  1. The Baptism of Jesus  2. The Wedding at Cana  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom  4. The Transfiguration  5. The Institution of the Eucharist (The Last Supper)

Sorrowful:  1. The Agony in the Garden  2. The Scourging at the Pillar  3. The Crowning with Thorns  4. The Carrying of the Cross  5. The Crucifixion

Glorious:  1. The Resurrection  2. The Ascension  3. The Coming of the Holy Spirit  4. The Assumption of Mary into Heaven  5. The Crowning of Mary

We pray one set of Mysteries each day (certain ones are traditionally prayed on particular days).  The Mystery is announced before the Our Father, then the Hail Marys are said while we meditate on that Mystery.  Now, it takes some practice to get that down, but once it’s gotten, it’s incredibly helpful to have something for hands and mouth to do while the mind is thinking.  The Rosary beads help so you don’t have try to keep track how many you’ve done; your fingers “do the walking.”  The speaking helps keep the mind on task (although wool-gathering can still happen, as any honest Catholic will tell you!)  Prayer is hard work, no matter how you do it, the Rosary is one method that helps a person focus and stick to a designated time.

What does this prayer accomplish?  The Rosary can be offered for a specific intention and my meditation might end up being guided by that intention.  For example, if I’m offering it for a friend’s situation, I might find insight into that situation and how I might be of help or encouragement to her as I think on the lives of Jesus and Mary.

The Rosary helps to keep me grounded in the basics of the Faith when the world around me seems to have gone mad.  I am reminded that there is a bigger picture of history than my little part in it  At the same time, remember that none of these Mysteries ever made the big news of the day.  While man waged war and conquered lands, God provided the means of salvation to the world.  Not a bad way to spend twenty minutes a day.